Elite athletes who have reached the top of their craft often need to pull motivation from wherever they can. As we saw throughout "The Last Dance" documentary,Michael Jordan over the course of his career. Jordan's search for motivation wasn't limited to reality, though, as he would also invent slights to push himself if he needed to, like he .
Shaquille O'Neal was another elite competitor who dominated the NBA during his day, and like Jordan, he found motivation wherever he could. For years, O'Neal maintained the story that former San Antonio Spurs All-Star center David Robinson denied Shaq an autograph when he was a kid, and O'Neal used that slight as a reason to best Robinson whenever he got an opportunity. But now that both have been retired from the game for some time, O'Neal finally came clean to Robinson.
During a Zoom conference call with a plethora of other former NBA stars, O'Neal apologized to Robinson and admitted that the entire story was fabricated.
"David, I want to say I apologize for making up that rumor," O'Neal said. "David took all my shine when he came to San Antonio, so I hated him for that. And then first couple of years he used to kill me, so I had to make up my rumor to get mad. ... He used to sprint up and down the court. I used to be like, 'God bless, slow down.' So, I made up a scenario. 'Oh, yeah, when I was 13 you didn't sign my autograph. I'm mad now.'"
Robinson revealed that O'Neal previously admitted to him that the story was made up while the two were teammates on Team USA at the 1996 Olympics.
"We were on the Olympic team," Robinson said. "We were sitting on the plane together and I said, 'Shaq, man, what is this stuff about me not signing an autograph?' He was like, 'Man, I'm sorry about that. I made that up.'"
In an interview earlier this year, O'Neal explained that the fact that Robinson became beloved in San Antonio, where O'Neal played high school ball, combined with Robinson's squeaky-clean image, led him to make up the story.
"David was just so nice and respectful," O'Neal said. "He's just a nice guy. I'm not a bully. You have to piss me off for me to get mad. David was, 'Hey Shaq, how ya doin'? How's your family?' So nice and ... so I had to make something up just to make me mad, and then when I came down to San Antonio and the fans start booing me -- Oh you're booing me in my hometown?… and then it was like a hatred thing for David and the Spurs. But it was all made up."
Sometimes the great ones just need some added motivation, and considering the fact that O'Neal won four championships over the course of his career and established himself as arguably the best big man ever in the process, it's safe to say that his tactics worked.